Boutique boom: Hipper hotels popping up across U.S.

 

 

Above the televisions in the lobby, a ticker runs not only the latest news but also stock updates. Over by the elevator, a screen tells you whether flights at the airport are on time. Next to the pool table in the lobby, there's another table so you can set up your laptop and plug it in.

Welcome to world of the boutique hotel. At a time when hotels worldwide are struggling, the concept of boutique hotels is exploding.

More than 40 boutique brands came on the market in 2008, said Fran Kiradjian, the founder and chairwoman of the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association, which formed in December and already has more than 200 members.

In the past year, Aloft and Hotel Indigo, both part of national chains, have opened in Jacksonville, Fla., joining local boutique hotels such as Casa Marina and Seawalk Hotel.

"Customers' taste have changed," Kiradjian said. "Generation Xers and Generation Y want a more experiential stay, rather than the big, branded cookie-cutters that dominated the scene."

Boutique hotels are on the small side. The maximum used to be considered 100 rooms, but now it's more like 150.

They look different: The colors are bright; the design is more modern and hip.

"It has to have some kind of unique design," Kiradjian said. "They'll often bring in local flavor, local artwork. They create a place for people to congregate. Xers and Ys want to get together. They don't just want to stay there. They want to hang out and meet people."

At Aloft and Hotel Indigo, the bar and the lobby are all one big room. Drinks and laptops together.

"We completely rethought the space to become a social gathering spot," said Page Francis, the enior vice president of marketing for Aloft. "There's tables for working or chattering. It drives the overall vibe for the hotel."

The first boutique hotel, Morgans, was opened in New York in 1984 by Ian Shrager and Steve Rubell, the pair behind iconic nightclub Studio 54. Rubell coined the term "boutique," and Shrager went on to build more.

In 2008, he joined Marriott International to create its luxury boutique brand, Edition, which will debut this year.

Though boutiques were originally independent hotels, all the major chains have gotten involved in the past few years.

Starwood, which has brands such as Westin and Sheraton, opened its first Aloft in 2008 and is about to open its 40th.

The Jacksonville Aloft opened last year, right across the street from River City Marketplace near the airport. A second is already planned for Tapestry Park, just south of Tinseltown off Southside Boulevard in the city.

Tapestry Park already has Hotel Indigo, which opened last year. That is part of InterContinental Hotels Group, the world's largest chain, with Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, among others.

IHG has 34 Hotel Indigos, with 10 more under construction around the country.

Choice Hotels International added its Ascend Collection to a lineup that already included brands such as Comfort Inn, Quality Inn and Econolodge. It opened an Ascend in St. Augustine Beach, Fla.

Janis Cannon, the vice president of IHG's global brand management, said Hotel Indigo's customers are about half business, half leisure. They tend to be in their mid-to late 30s.

"They're into lifestyle, but not about trendy," Cannon said. "They watch the Food Network and HGTV."

Hotel Indigo has 24-hour room service, a fitness center and a business center.

Francis said Aloft is in Starwood's "select serve" category. It doesn't have the amenities that some of Starwood's higher-priced hotels have, she said. The average price, about $125 a night, is lower than at most of the company's brands.

Hotel Indigo's rates -- about $150 during the week and about $100 on weekends in Jacksonville -- are slightly above average for the IHG brands, Cannon said.

 

 

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